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Dealing with Disruptive Students

What follows is a two-part discussion that took place on WMST-L in 
January 1997 about disruptive students.  It emerged from a discussion of 
Men in Women's Studies Classes.  See Dealing with Disruptive Students II
for a related discussion that took place in September 1999.  For more 
WMST-L files available on the Web, see the WMST-L File List.

PAGE 1 OF 2 

Date: Thu, 23 Jan 1997 12:44:59 -0500
From: Sally Harrison-Pepper <Sallynla @ AOL.COM>
Subject: Re: bullies in class
I'm still puzzled by why people feel they must allow a disruptive student to
remain in class.  What is the benefit for the class?
Sally Harrison-Pepper

Date: Thu, 23 Jan 1997 12:10:25 -0600
From: "Debra A. Combs" <dcombs @ POST.CIS.SMU.EDU>
Subject: Re: bullies in class
Though I've not read this entire line, the problem with
bullies in the class I suspect is partially a reflection
on the policies of one's institution/program.  At one
school I was teaching in I could not remove students
from my class--even when one started harassing another student
and me.  Instead we had to send the problem to a kind of
mediation.  (I felt that because the student was a
"paying customer" I could not deny him the service he had
paid for.)
At another institution I have taught at, one of the courses
that I have taught sections of can not be dropped without
having the student withdraw from the University.  We literally
can not have disruptive students removed from the class--and
they can't drop the class without leaving school.
In these situations, the "bully" has a lot of authority because
the instructor does not have the option to remove the
student.  So I suspect that the "bully" problem also
involves the institution's policies.
Dr. Debra Combs

Date: Fri, 24 Jan 1997 11:19:06 -0500
From: Sally Harrison-Pepper <Sallynla @ AOL.COM>
Subject: Re: bullies in class
In a message dated 1/23/97 4:04:45 PM, you wrote:
>At one
>school I was teaching in I could not remove students
>from my class--even when one started harassing another student
>and me.
>At another institution I have taught at, one of the courses
>that I have taught sections of can not be dropped without
>having the student withdraw from the University.  We literally
>can not have disruptive students removed from the class--and
>they can't drop the class without leaving school.
This is amazing to me.  How can a university insist that a disruptive student
be allowed to hamper the educational experience of every other student in the
course?  Aren't the other students "paying customers" too?
Are there many others on the list who are prohibitted from removing
disruptive students from their classes?  Do I have a bonus from my university
that I was not even aware of?
Amazed and astounded,
Sally H-P

Date: Fri, 24 Jan 1997 14:10:34 -0400
Subject: Re: bullies in class
Hello all,
    I also have never worked at a place were disruptive students could be
removed from a class (unless they were physically threatening, in which case
this goes into other territory.)  I personally would not want to be in place
that allowed this to happen. Have I had obnoxious students who challenge and
complain and I'd like to personally throttle - yes.  But "disruptive" is a
subjective term.  I've known lots of professors that would have said feminism
is disruptive and I would not want to have been kicked out of a class because
of it.  As difficult and, sometimes, unpleasant the task, don't we as educators
have a responsiblity to find ways of dealing with such students and *educating*
them, rather then removing them from the situation.  Again, before y'all jump
on me, I am not refering to students that could be considered threatening or
dangerous (and teaching crime and deviance - I've had those too.)
Su Epstein, Ph.D.
Dept of Sociology
SUNY   @   Oneonta
epsteisc  @  snyoneva.cc.oneonta.edu

Date: Fri, 24 Jan 1997 14:41:48 -0400
From: Von Bakanic <BAKANICV @ COFC.EDU>
Subject: Re: bullies in class
>     I also have never worked at a place were disruptive students could be
> removed from a class (unless they were physically threatening, in which case
> this goes into other territory.)
  This morning in a cross listed women's studies class that I teach, I had
a very disruptive experience.  I arrived at the large lecture hall about 2
minuutes before the class time.  A student in the class had moments before
announced to the class that it was canceled for the day.  Only about 25 of
the 75 students enrolled were still in the area when I walked into the
building.  I introductory level course I take attendance, students are only
allowed three absences a semeter without penalty.  I have decided not to
count the missed class as an absence for students who left.  My question is
what to do with this student.  Yes, he was male.
Von Bakanic, Ph.D.                           (803) 953-7105
Dept. of Sociology                           internet address:
College of Charleston                        bakanicv  @  cofc.edu
Charleston, S.C. 29424                       FAX (803) 953-5738

Date: Fri, 24 Jan 1997 15:50:23 -0500
From: Shahnaz C Saad <saad @ DOLPHIN.UPENN.EDU>
Subject: Re: bullies in class
This is appalling, particularly since students who miss too many classes
are penalized. This student was setting other students up to lose points
in the class. He should therefore be treated no differently from a
student who deletes another student's research paper from her disk,
steals the other student's research, or tears up a classmate's final
Chris Saad, PhD
saad  @  dolphin.upenn.edu
saad  @  alumni.upenn.edu

Date: Fri, 24 Jan 1997 12:58:39 -0800
From: Pauline Bart <pbart @ UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Re: bullies in class
Dear Von Bakanic,
I will be at the SWS meetings at the College of Charleston next month.  I
think it would be useful for you to get on the program to discuss what
happenned to you.  Then I can support you, because SWS gave me funds for a
lawyer when I was "fired" from the Univ. Ill at Chicago Liberal Arts when
some men complained.  Of course the administration wanted to get rid of me,
but I was a tenured full professor with tenure.

Date: Fri, 24 Jan 1997 13:50:32 -0800
From: Betty Glass <glass @ ADMIN.UNR.EDU>
Subject: Re: bullies in class
Try contacting the Student Government Association on your campus and
ask what formal grievance procedures they have for students involved
in malicious mischief and obstruction of the university's educational
Many campuses have grievance procedures for students who violate the
honor code (plagiarism, etc.)  The existing framework on your campus
may cover the situation you encountered.
glass  @  admin.unr.edu

Date: Fri, 24 Jan 1997 16:59:45 EST
From: "Gina Oboler, Anthropology & Sociology,
              Ursinus College" <roboler  @  ACAD.URSINUS.EDU>

Subject: Re: bullies in class
It seems perfectly appropriate to take disciplinary action against a student
who deliberately and without authority does things meant to have a purely
disruptive impact -- e.g. announcing that class is cancelled -- as opposed to
expressing opinions the professor views as not helping advance the development
of the group's thinking during time set aside for expression of opinion.
Forbidding expression of certain opinions is a violation of academic freedom.
As has already been pointed out, the forbidden opinions could well be feminist
analyses.  The professor must allow the expression of opinion, but work out
effective ways of responding to and defusing disruptive opinions.
Other forms of disruptive behavior are another matter.  It doesn't seem to me
reasonable to regard certain forms of self expression, e.g. through dress and
body adornment styles, as inherently disruptive (the student with the purple
mohawk), though one of my professors wouldn't allow anyone into his class who
wasn't wearing shoes.  But it's obvious that talking with other students
during class, or playing a radio, or making sudden loud noises for any reason
(unless it can't be helped, e.g. coughing, etc.) and other forms of
disruptive behavior do not have to be tolerated.  I think it is incumbent on
the instructor to explain to the student that the behavior is disruptive in
the instructor's opinion, and ask that it not be repeated, and take
 disciplinaryaction on the second offense.  (The student who cancelled class
 might be an
exception, because there's no way I can imagine that the student viewed this
behavior as benign.)
It also seems to me that even the expression of opinion can take *forms* that
should not have to be tolerated, e.g. hostile screaming, personal attack and
name-calling, etc.  In this case, the instructor needs to explain the ground
rules -- why the behavior is unacceptable -- and ask that it not be repeated.
(I have, however, encountered among fellow academics the opinion that asking
others to moderate their characteristic forms of expression -- e.g. to "be
polite" is an illegitimate stifling of their ability to express their true
identity, so....)
It isn't clear that in this thread we are completely distinguishing between
people who do distinctly disruptive things -- where I think in most instances
disciplinary action is an available remedy -- and cases in which the student
is taking up class time by expressing opinions the professor considers
unhelpful.  In the latter case, we should not permit only certain opinions to
be expressed in our classroom, but it is reasonable to limit the amount of
time each individual spends expressing them, as in the various poker chip
schemes, etc. that have been mentioned.
I would find it very disturbing if there are institutions that permit the
professor to exclude any student from class at any time, for any reason,
without any form of due process -- but I find it hard to believe that there are.

Date: Fri, 24 Jan 1997 17:08:16 -0500
From: "Constance J. Ostrowski" <ostroc @ RPI.EDU>
Subject: Re: bullies in class
On my initial course handout for every course I teach at the community
college at which I work, I include the following statement:
    I reserve the right to require any student to leave the classroom
    who displays disrespect for the rest of the class and interferes
    with class discussion in any or all of the following ways:
        *  Coming to class unprepared, which includes coming
        to class without the text.
        *  Engaging in any disruptive behavior, including private
        conversations, inappropriate commentary, persistent late
        arrival or departure from the room before the class has
        *  Engaging in any non-participatory activity, such as
        reading non-class-related material, studying for tests
        or doing homework for other courses, writing papers due
        for this or other classes, doing crossword puzzles, etc.
Every semester I wrestle over whether to include this statement for several
reasons, among which is my discomfort with making such a strong, authoritarian
statement (in a handout which helps set the tone for the class); every
semester (over the last few years) I decide to retain it, based on prior
experience.  I have never received any flak over this statement from
college administrators.  Perhaps this is due to the fact that so far I
haven't *had* to enforce it; there have been a couple of cases where I
was tempted to because things were getting out of hand, but for the most
part because they weren't too far out of hand--thoughtlessness rather
than anger or venom as the source of the problematic behavior--I was
able to resolve these differently.
With this statement on my course outlines, if Von's student were in my class,
I'd be able to--and I would--remove him from the room for at least that
session.  Then, our student code would allow me to file disciplinary
charges, and I'd do that, too.
I sound tough--I probably sound fierce.  But as I tell my students when
we go over this statement (and the whole outline) on the first day, I
include it not to warn people in the class (because that would mean I
assume that any of them might behave in that manner, and that would be
condescending and insulting), but to assure them that I guard their
right to the respect they deserve fiercely. That includes respect when
they voice comments, interpretations, experiences, and respect in terms
of not having their opportunity to get the education they came for
interfered with and decreased because of rude and inconsiderate behavior
on the part of someone else.
As someone else (whose post I didn't save and whose name I don't remember)
said, Von's student might have been trying to undercut his "competition"
by trying to hurt their grades.  Or, his action may have been the same
kind of (*not harmless) juvenile prank as hitting the fire alarm is.  Or,
he may have been trying to sabotage the class out of anger.  [Of course,
as we might all be thinking:  Did he think Von would not know?  But, if
sabotage, this might have been his way of "protesting"--and I use that
term very, very loosely.]
Whatever his motives, his behavior hurt his fellow classmates.  And that
should not be tolerated.
Connie Ostrowski
ostroc  @  rpi.edu (alum, not work account)

Date: Fri, 24 Jan 1997 14:33:59 -0800
From: Susan Arpad <susan_arpad @ CSUFRESNO.EDU>
Subject: disruptive students
     Several years ago a student in one of our Women's Studies classes
began bullying other students (denying their experiences of domestic
abuse).  When the instructor asked him to leave the room, he refused.
The instructor dismissed the class.  She talked to the student outside
of class and he was adamant that it was his right to talk in class.
The instructor insisted that he not return to class until they could
come to an understanding acceptable to both about what he could and
could not do in class.  Eventually, the campus police barred his
return to class, the student threatened to sue, the university
wavered, and the program had to make alternate arrangements so that
all students could complete the course.
     It took several years, but we not have a disruptive student
policy in place (it's printed in the catalog each year).  In the
intervening years, the policy has been somewhat generalized and
diluted.  It says that students may be disciplined for behavior which
disrupts the educational process.  Of course, how the courts will
interpret the line between disruption and free speech is contested
ground, but at least having the policy in place gives a faculty member
a little bit of breathing space when a crisis occurs in the classroom.
Susan_Arpad  @  CSUFresno.edu

Date: Fri, 24 Jan 1997 16:35:03 -0900
From: Muldy Sculler <ffbmh @ AURORA.ALASKA.EDU>
Subject: Re: bullies in class
The bully who "cancelled" a class for an instructor ought to be required
to ask the class' forgiveness.

Date: Fri, 24 Jan 1997 21:42:18 -0500
From: Susan Koppelman <Huddis @ AOL.COM>
Subject: Fwd: bullies in class
From Susan Koppelman, <<huddis  @  aol.com>>
FLUNK HIM immediately.  You may excuse those who left and make their decision
to believe him a topic of conversation in a later class, but he should
certainly be charged with the three absences that end his life in that class!
  And he can be threatened by any of the students who resent his "little
joke" with a suit for loss of paid-for-class time.  And if the class is to be
made up, the university should sue him for the extra pay you will have to
receive when you agree to make up the class.  Hit him for this in all the
places that hurt--the pocketbook, his reputation with his peers, his ability
to continue to perp. this kind of behavior.  He behaved maliciously to the
detriment and cost of everyone involved.

Date: Fri, 24 Jan 1997 22:51:11 -0500
From: "William W. Pendleton" <socwwp @ EMORY.EDU>
Subject: Re: Fwd: bullies in class
   The comments on disruptive behavior and bullying in the class room are
interesting and disturbing in that I have never encountered any behavior
that comes even close to the examples.  I have noticed a general decline
in comity in many settings, including the university, and I suspect our
increasing toleration of small failings in etiquette encourages greater
ones.  These examples raise the question of how might I act in such
circumstances or how ought I to act.  The false dismissal of a class seems
clear.  Once I was assured that the miscreant was not himself the victim
of false information, I think it would be like a bomb threat in
interfering with the educational process and should be dealt with
accordingly.  I realize that many of my colleagues would make exceptions
for those who did so for "correct positions" as they did during the era of
demonstrations.  I felt than and now demonstration is appropriate,
disruption is not. The questions about a student who attempts to subvert
the course by endlessly questioning the materials or assumptions of the
class is a more difficult matter, but at some point amounts to the same
thing-education is disrupted.  I or any faculty member should be willing
to explain and defend assumptions and cite sources, but vacuous
argumentation is not something we should personally tolerate or that
effective education can survive.  The mild cases I have encountered have
been easily resolved, so I can't be sure of my reaction if put to the
test.  I think I would tell such a student to leave the room and return
with a serious attitude.  It has never occurred to me that I lacked the
authority to do that.  It would be interesting to know if these problems
arise more in some fields, with respect to women faculty more than men,
with respect to younger faculty more than older faculty or with respect to
some teaching styles more than others.  In any event, I suggest that a
strict code of decent  behavior be demanded.
 Wm W\. Pendleton
Department of Sociology
Emory University
Atlanta, Ga. 30322
socwwp  @  emory.edu
404 727-7524

Date: Fri, 24 Jan 1997 23:58:55 -0500
From: Susan Koppelman <Huddis @ AOL.COM>
Subject: Re: bullies in class
I just read my own message on this board.  What a neat experience!  Susan
Koppelman <<huddis  @  aol.com>>
And it made me think this:
If I were a student in the class where this guy perpetrated the dispersal of
the class and destriuction, DECONSTRUCTION in fact, of the learning
environment, how would I have felt when I learned what had happened?  I
 really want to know what the students in the class think when they learn
about what he did.  I hope you will tell us on this board, who are following
this thread.
How would you feel if you were a student in that class?  I would be really
pissed!  And I mean to choose an ugly word to describe how I would feel.  I
would feel violated.  His behavior is a manifestation of a rapist's
mentality.  He pertetrated an act of violence, violation, on everyone in that
class, teacher and students.  It was not a prank.  It was an act of the
rankist patronage, most brutish acting out of phallocratic patriarchal
assumption of POWER.  HE had the right, he believed, to tell our unruly crown
to disperse.  What kind of a politician does this guy remind you of?  What
party would he belong to in the long course of history?  The National
Socialist party?  The Klu Klux Klan party?  Watch this guy--one day he's
going to clean up his act, like that racist guy in Louisiana, and he's going
to run for public office and he might win.  STOP HIM NOW!
What happens with a lot of these guys who hog the time, the emotional space,
the individual attention privileges, these guys who STEAL nurturance is that
no one notices and calls by name what they are doing.  What they are doing is
asserting patriarchal privilege.  CALL THEM ON IT.
You want to teach about FEMINISM?  You want to teach from a feminist
perspective?  Then call him on it.  Explain to everyone what is happening.
 Teach them feminist analysis by analyzing the incident.  It may humiliate
him.  I hope to god it does.  How many times have women been humiliated the
simple intellectual act of explaining a theory as if it were a reasonable way
for intelligent and humane human beings to think.  Do you all remember that
Freud said that "that's why it is that women are incapable of a sense of
justice" in his essay on "Feminity" in NEW INTRODUCTORY LECTURES IN
PSYCHOANALYSIS.  How could you trust anything else that guy says when that
sentence is such unbelievable crap!
And a feminist analysis is one that starts with an understanding that sexism
exists and is pervasive.  The wonderful definition of feminism that Matilda
Joclyn Gage included in her late 19th century book WOMEN, CHURCH, AND STATE,
that Sally Roesch Wagner redisvoered and published back in the early days of
feminism, the 1970s, is still the one that I accept as the best I have ever
read:  I don';t have the words in front of my because I have moved and
everything isn't unpacked yet, but it is the definitoin that the women's
caucus of the Popular and American Culture association adopted as the
defining criterion for the Koppelman Award for the best annual edited
feminist works in the fields of popular or AMerican culture.  Emily Toth and
Elizabeth Hull reworked the language of the definition -- it went something
like this--although I'm sure there's someone out there who will have it
exactly --
Feminism is rooted in the understanding that historically men have had
unlimited and non-reciprocal access to all of women's resources,
intellectual, emotional, physical, creative, nurturant.  Women suffer whether
use is made of them or they are rejected as useful and in the belief that the
future can be different.  And must be.
So if you analyze what the student did in terms of that definition of
feminism, then you have a perfect intellectual exercise.  Just like people
use the play by Shakespeare called HAMLET to demonstrate their intellectual
agilty by reading it as a Freudian exercise, you can use his behavior to
analyze sexism--its dynamics, its underpinnings--and always it is undergirded
with the threat of physical destruction.
Remember: Men are afraid that we will laugh at them.  Women are afraid that
they will kill us.  Both things happen.  And as long as it is common practice
for a certain percent of them to slaughter a certain pe rcent of us on a
regular basis, we will be laughing at them.  Because besides being terrifying
and painful to live with, the knowledge that they kill us also leaves us with
a certain -- how shall I put it -- DISDAIN for them. . . . And those we
disdain we laugh at.
Well, girlfriends (my mother laughed at me when she was fifty and I was 32
and I said, "Don't call us GIRLS!  We are WOMEN!"  She said, "By the time you
are fifty the word "girl" will be a legitimate word again.  You'll call your
girlfriends "girlfriends" again and you'll relish it.  I am 56 and my mother
is always right!), I know I've gone on for a very long time.
I'm just so excited to be able to be in touch with all of you after all these
years of being isolated and separated from all of you by my two decades of
illness.  I'm excited and happy; it's like being at a party.  But I'll calm
down pretty soon.
I'm so excited by how smart you are all talking.  It's such a pleasure to
encounter such intensity, such commitment to "Doing The Right Thing" even if
we don't always agree about what that right thing is.  You are a wonderful
community of sisters who want to do the right thing.  I am proud to be part
of you and to have you be part of me.  I also realized that we can take hints
about how to act from each other, but ultimately we have to make the decision
that most closely adheres to our sense of what is Right and what our
temperament will allow.  So if I sound pretty fired up, well, I am, but not
to the exclusion of understanding that your perspective is also authentic and
righteous.  G'nite.  Love, Susan

Date: Sat, 25 Jan 1997 11:15:07 -0500
From: Kathryn Church <kathryn.church @ UTORONTO.CA>
Subject: "bullies"? in class
Dear List:
        I find this issue really complex.  I wouldn't describe the male
student I struggled with as a "bully."  Nor was he disruptive in the way
that we we have been discussing here.  But he did have a very definite idea
of who I should be as a "professor" (all knowing, strong, authoritative
etc.) which did not coincide with mine nor with the power sharing which I
was attempting to enact in the class.  He also had very definite ideas
about what I should be teaching (skills sets, predominantly) which did not
coincide with my attempts to get students to problematize issues, to think
critically about a set of provocative readings and to deconstruct the ways
in which their profession and they as professionals were being put
together.  For the first half of the semester, I attempted to take up his
issues.  I kept thinking of him as a student who had paid his money and
deserved the best response I could muster.  But at some point, the other
students in the class, and especially the women, turned to me (in anger)
and said "Why are you spending so much time on this guy's issues? "  They
wanted me to move on with the agenda which I had set out.  And they
challenged him into a  festering silence during the class which was
followed by attempts outside of class to gather support for his
"scapegoating." .  I found it extraordinarily complex, as from that point
on, I couldn't take up his trouble (at least in class and he wouldn't meet
with me outside of class without a "third party' present) without ending up
being defined as facilitating the "masculine." The female students in the
class, in this way, were more radical than I was.  And that was a powerful
thing to think about and to work with.
Kathryn Church
kathryn.church  @  utoronto.ca

Date: Sat, 25 Jan 1997 09:08:35 -0500
From: Nelda K Pearson <npearson @ RUNET.EDU>
Subject: WOMEN bullies in the classroom
Dear Women Friends-
I have been following the men bullies thread with interest.  One of the
premisses is that these men do these things out of patristic priviledge
and entitlement.  What about women bullies--of which I have had my fair
share.  Currently, I have an older married-with-children woman in my class
who immediately told me she had been an undergraduate for five years and
had three majors and knew everything I was going to teach and that
participating in any assignment outside of class was impossible since she
had two teenage daughters (she then showned me her beeper on which the
daughters would be calling her during class if they needed her) and that
she would have to leave class when this happened. Having been a
married-with children graduate student and a single parent faculty member
I am very sympathetic to his woman's situation.  How she presented it,
however, was a red flag to me.  After three weeks of class it is clear
that this woman is NOT going to shut up.  She anticipates everything I am
going to say and says it for me--except that it is NOT what I'm going to
say.  Thrsday I was discussing Chodorow and the men in my class had
several real questions--men that I have had before in other classes and
who trust me and I trust them.  She literally attacked them and completely
destroyed the point I was trying to help the men understand.  Several of
the women in the class are already rolling their eyes and nugging each
other.  Several of them have approached me about how the class is being
ruined.  As one student said this woman "turns her opinion into authority
and then looks around for affirmation." This is not the first time I have
had this dynamic emerge in the classroom.
My take on this situation is that this woman as an older student does not
want to be identified as a student but wants to be identified with me the
teacher.  Secondly, I also think that she is an "empty bucket with holes
in it."  No matter how much attention I would pour into this bucket, the
more she would need.  I have been hoping that she would settle down as
the class got underway but she has put me in a position where I am
constantly contradicting her in order to make a point or convey an idea.
I have two strategies up my sleeve.  THe first is to ask the class as a
group to avoid disruptive comments (as opposed to entering into the
discussion) since the disruptive comments tend to divert our thinking and
confuse the issue.  I'm assuming this won't work.  My second strategy will
be to flatter her (in private) --to point out that she know so much that
it must be hard for her not to make a lot of comments and that it would
help me if she would confine her discussion of the more esoteric points to
our private discussion so that she doesn't confuse the others--I have to
really gear myself up to do this one and I have to bite my tougue while
saying it <grin> but it has worked in the past.
This leads me to a final comment.  I believe this woman's behavior is
based on a need for recognition as special.  I also believe that some or
a lot of male bullying behavior is also based on this neediness.  The
wounds they have experienced mean that they can only voice themselves in
obnoxious ways.  Of course for men this takes a form that is more closely
linked to patristic patriarchal behavior.  However, this woman is also
male identified and wants to be the expert that proves me wrong or if
right, right only because she says so.  Looking at the neediness behind
bully behavior may help us come up with some tactics that are more in the
spirit of co-operation and collaborative learning.
Anyone have any suggestions if my second strategy doesn't work.
Nelda K.Pearson
Prof Dept Soc/Anth
Chair, Race, Class and Gender Studies
Radford University
Radford, VA. 24142
npearson  @  runet.edu

Date: Sat, 25 Jan 1997 09:57:15 -0500
From: Christine Smith <10casmith @ BSUVC.BSU.EDU>
Subject: passive aggressive behavior in the WS classroom
I have been thrilled with the discussion that has been going on regarding
bullies and disruptive students, since I go through it all the time in my
WS classes (rarely in non-WS classes).  And, since I am having problems
this semester, I'm hoping to get feedback, as others are.
     I'm teaching Intro to WS for the first time (after YEARS of begging).
I was SO excited!  Well, that lasted about a class.  I have 6 men out of
29 students (the most men who have ever taken this course here).  Two of the
men are WS minors, but the other 4, rather average Ball State male students.
Since I have had problems in the past, we had a classroom discussion on
why people who obviously think this is a trivial topic take these courses,
and I shared some of my experiences with disruptive students.
     I also establsihed my course as unabashedly feminist, and I talked about
I meant by that.  One of the men contributed to the conversation we were
having about "what is equality," and I thought things might be OK.
     Nope.  they sit there and roll their eyes, shoot looks to each other,
write notes, make brief comments, have very hostile body language, and
they sit in a group.  the classroom is very tense (I've had others tell me
In their journals, there was alot of hostility, toward me, the subject
matter, and the other students.  They are not blatantly hostile or bullying
in the traditional sense, but it is creating an uncomfortable environment.
It is obvious to many students that they don't want to be there and think
it is a load of crap.  Quite honestly, I am not overly interested in wasting
valuable class time in their hostility, taking away from the learning of
others, who at least appear to be giving the class a chance.  I've pciked
up some ideas from this discussion (having the class do a contract, handout
on reserving the right to ask a student to leave because of scertain behaviors.
Any other suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
Christine Smith
10casmith  @  bsuvc.bsu.edu

Date: Sat, 25 Jan 1997 10:54:04 -0500
From: Shahnaz C Saad <saad @ DOLPHIN.UPENN.EDU>
Subject: WOMEN bullies in the classroom
I find that this is the most difficult type of student to handle, worse
even than the male bullies. This know-it-all type, in my experience, is
always a female, and she always alienates the rest of the class.
I suspect that these students are so insistent on proving they know
everything because they are very insecure.
As for how to deal with them, I don't know. If I try to let the group
process take care of them, the group is often very harsh and I have had
the know-it-all student end up in tears. This doesn't seem beneficial to
anyone, yet if I protect the know-it-all from the group, the group
resents the class time she consumes.
I have tried talking privately to the know-it-all, explaining how to
express ideas in such a way that other group members will be receptive.
Because she knows it all, she doesn't really listen.
I have tried insisting on "I" statements (each student is only allowed to
say what *s/he* thinks or feels), but the know-it-all will end up telling
the others, "I think you should..."
I dread this type of student. I too would appreciate others' insights.
Chris Saad, PhD
saad  @  dolphin.upenn.edu
saad  @  alumni.upenn.edu

Date: Sat, 25 Jan 1997 10:59:55 -0500
From: "John C. Berg" <jberg @ ACAD.SUFFOLK.EDU>
Subject: Fwd: bullies in class
On Fri, 24 Jan 1997, William W. Pendleton wrote:
>    The comments on disruptive behavior and bullying in the class room are
> interesting and disturbing in that I have never encountered any behavior
> that comes even close to the examples.
Probably such incidents are more likely in the case of a) women
instructors, and b) younger instructors.
In my second year of teaching (now 20 years ago, alas) I walked into class
and found no one there.  There was a note on the door saying that class
had been cancelled.
I saved the note and discovered the culprit by handwriting comparison with
the mid-term exams.  He was very embarrassed and seemingly contrite --
and, of course, scared about what would happen.  In this case, having
given him a good fright, I judged it better not to take the case any
further--but that was only because he was otherwise a reasonably good
student, and not generally disruptive -- I figured he had just yielded to
the temptation of a sudden impulse.  So I think how one handles incidents
should depend on the feeling one gets for the violator.
John C. Berg                    jberg  @  acad.suffolk.edu
Department of Government            Tel: +617-573-8126
Suffolk University                Fax: +617-367-4623
Boston, Massachusetts 02108-2770

Date: Sat, 25 Jan 1997 12:33:57 -0500
From: "Vera M. Britto" <fiatlux @ UMICH.EDU>
Subject: WOMEN bullies in the classroom
[In response to Nelda Pearson's message, above]
I believe your second strategy sounds better than the first. I
would also suggest that if it is possible that you assign her
to do something to channel her energy into what is a
positive task (like extra research for each class) etc.,
that would complement the solution even better. since
you explained a bit of the context - that may not be possible,
but i think it may also work.
i had a male student who was not a bully (and very different than
your female student), but he was disruptive. everytime i
asked a question, he would answer with a wisecrack. this
would disrupt the class, because that would then inhibit other
students from answering tentatively things in a more serious way.
it made serious answers sound silly.
he was not out to control the class, however, he wanted attention.
his hostility wasn't that high either.  my guess is that
he had had horrible parents who did not give him attention
appropriately, so he did what he could to get it. i know
this is speculation, but it happens often enough with children
who are disruptive.
once it became clear that this was the dominant way he interacted,
the next time he did it, i said in front of the class that i
wanted to talk to him after class. he got scared and did not
do it again for that period. as he came in my office, he was again
quite scared of what was coming. another clue in my opinion to the
kind of bullying "authority" he had been subjected to as a child.  When we
talked, i was very calm, i *asked* him respectfully not to do that and
explained to
him it disrupted the class.  he had been expecting a big
punishment. he was surprised (and relieved). he improved after that ,
although not to perfection (surprise, surprise), he would still
do it now and then, and i would just ignore it, and the class
who had noticed the change, would follow suit. but the
neat thing happened at the very
end of the semester when all students had to do a final
speech.  his speech was a touching and thankful comment on how kindness
and constructive actions allow people who are on the wrong track
to change. it was my turn to be surprised.
i am not, by any means, suggesting this works in any situation.
as   John C. Berg also mentioned "So I think how
one handles incidents
should depend on the feeling one gets for the violator."
but i also see an echo of the above in your female student,
although she sounds much more difficult. so i would still suggest
that you try to open up a channel for positive action at
the same time that tell her to cut out the negative behavior.
and i disagree that she is "male" identified, since i think
there are different ways of being male (and female for that
matter) and such stereotyping in my opinion doesn't
do much good.
Vera Britto

Date: Sat, 25 Jan 1997 11:11:04 -0500
From: the Cheshire Cat <alanacat @ WAM.UMD.EDU>
Subject: passive aggressive behavior in the WS classroom (fwd)
On Sat, 25 Jan 1997, Christine Smith wrote:
> I meant by that.  One of the men contributed to the conversation we were
> having about "what is equality," and I thought things might be OK.
>      Nope.  they sit there and roll their eyes, shoot looks to each other,
> write notes, make brief comments, have very hostile body language, and
> they sit in a group.  the classroom is very tense (I've had others tell me
>  this).
This might take some work at this point, but it is possible to alter a lot
of behavior through subtle phyical means: Don't let the men sit together.
If you can, sit the group in a circle or semi-circle and assign them seats
across from, but off center of each other: that'll will make them less
able to do some of the behaviors that affirm each others' behavior
(nudging, etc) set up the assignemts so that they must oppose each others'
positions. Split the class up into smaller groups where the men are
distributed among the stronger women, and are not together. But the most
important thing is NOT to let them sit together in a group or next to each
other. Another thing you can do is to sit a couple of the stronger women
together in a group and have them sit facing one or two of the leaders of
the male cabal. Let them take on some of the mens' behavior.
Alana Suskin
alanacat  @  wam.umd.edu

Date: Sat, 25 Jan 1997 14:15:15 -0400
From: "Dr. Cynthia J. Hallett" <challett @ JAX-INTER.NET>
Subject: distruptive student
Maybe I can get into this discussion:
One thing about Vera's male student that no one
had brought into the conversation before the digest
went out last night is that fact that students
(were most of them female?) actually believed him
and did not at least wait until a certain amount
of class time had past to be sure that the teacher
was, in fact, not coming.
Once, while I was a TA, I came in to teach my 8 a.m.
class in spite of really bad weather because I'd heard
nothing yet about the university's closing and I wanted
to be there if any of my students had made the effort
to get there.  In fact, all my students were there, but
we seemed to be the only ones, so at 8:30 a.m., when the
department office opened, I left the classroom to find
out whether or not the university was going to remain
open or was closing for the day. While I was out of
the room, another TA walked into the classroon
and dismissed my students--telling them that the
university was closed and they could go home.
I met him (this other TA) coming down the hallway.
He told me that he had dismissed my class and why;
I was furious with him and told him that
he had no right to do such a thing since none
of this was an emergency situation.
--he said that I was crazy!
      Well, not one of students had moved; they were
waiting for me to tell them what the story was.
So I was wondering why so many students would have
taken this one student at his word.  Cynthia Hallett

Date: Sat, 25 Jan 1997 14:19:40 -0500
From: "Carole E. Adams" <cadams @ PEGASUS.CC.UCF.EDU>
Subject: bullies in class
Dear Colleagues:
As an American who has spent many years teaching in Germany and Australia,
and now back in the US in WS and history, I have followed the bully thread
with interest, esp. given some of the cultural dimensions (not that one
doesn't find disruptive students in all three countries).
I believe that many US students and others believe that 'Freed of Speech'
is equivalent to 'all opinions have equal value,' and thus that students
can waffle on bec/ it's 'their opinion.'
I always tell my students that our first amendmt gives us the right to
express our opinion, but that others do not have to pay any attention to
it if it is not backed up with data and/ or analysis.  I tend to use the
example 'all cows are purple and live in  trees.'  Just bec/ a student
gives this as an opinion does not mean that we have to give class time to
it or defend contrary views at length.
This usually gets a very thoughtful response, and in class discussions I
can refer back to it with 'ok, that's your opinion, and your evidence for
it is...'
I'v e even had occasion  to say things like 'well, you are entitled to
your opinion, but there is overwhelming evidence against it.  For
THis of course will not stop a real bully, but it isolates bec/ students
don't get locked into the 'gee, isn't s/he entitled to express an
Or do others think I'm overstating the American overreaction to the first
Carole Adams

Date: Sat, 25 Jan 1997 15:11:42 -0500
From: Katherine Side <klside @ YORKU.CA>
Subject: disruptive students
In the case of *really* disruptive students at my university, students that
have threatened the personal safety of instructors, the union health and
safety provisions have been used.
It puzzles me, that in unsafe circumstances, this route isn't used more
Katherine Side
klside  @  YorkU.ca
Graduate Programme in Women's Studies
York University
North York, Ontario

Date: Sat, 25 Jan 1997 12:55:10 -0700
From: avril chalmers <avril_chalmers @ SFU.CA>
Subject: classroom bullies
I've been following this thread also with a great deal of interest as it
parallels research I plan to do with schoolteachers engaged in gender
equity work in schools. However, it would help save storage space (I save
many messages for later perusal) if subscribers would edit the message
they're responding to down to the most relevant bits. Sometimes a response
is only a few lines long, appended to a very long original posting. Hope
that's possible on people's various e-mail progs.
Avril Chalmers
avril_chalmers  @  sfu.ca

Date: Sat, 25 Jan 1997 22:03:52 +0000
From: Judy Evans <jae2 @ YORK.AC.UK>
Subject: Fwd: bullies in class
On Fri, 24 Jan 1997, William W. Pendleton wrote:
> test.  I think I would tell such a student to leave the room and return
> with a serious attitude.  It has never occurred to me that I lacked the
> authority to do that.  It would be interesting to know if these problems
> arise more in some fields, with respect to women faculty more than men,
> with respect to younger faculty more than older faculty or with respect to
> some teaching styles more than others.  In any event, I suggest that a
> strict code of decent  behavior be demanded.
Here, I would say that they are related to the move to seeing students
as 'customers' (who, however, are not expected to accept the consequences
of a choice) allied with the compulsory evaluation of courses.
(That is: it is compulsory for us to have them evaluate us.  The
normal method is standardized anonymous questionnaire; so usual that
I've only just realised it's also possible to evaluate by group
For a while I became a more timorous teacher because of this.  I
would say 'good point' to everything rather than pushing students.
(Because if there were bad evaluations, I had no real right of
reply.  Once some good evaluations which contained a complaint not
aimed at me were misread; and so on and so on.)
I am under a new regime regaining my courage.  I hope to do what
I used to do, and throw a class out if they haven't done the
But I think Bill is right to suggest a relationship between
gender, teaching style and subject, though I think these
interact in complex ways.  There are subjects where students
really do want to master the material in every lecture,
and it is not required to be 'interesting' in the cabaret
sense; I think statistics, in science courses. may be an example.
And I think that there, gender would enter into an
assessment less.
Judy Evans      +      Politics      +      jae2  @  york.ac.uk
using voice-recognition software-----please ignore mistakes

Date: Sat, 25 Jan 1997 18:32:15 -0600
From: "J.E. McAdams" <jmcadams @ SFASU.EDU>
Subject: authority & problems in the classroom
I've found this an interesting thread & appreciate the comments and ideas
people have posted. I wonder, though, to what extent we must engage
students in all aspects of the class, if we want to break down existing
power dynamics of the conventional classroom. Should they, too, bear
responsibility--and be expected to take action--when these sorts of
problems arise?
For example, regarding the student who dismissed the class. What if the
instructor made it part of the class? She could ask the other
students--during class--what would be the appropriate course to take?
Obviously, the decision is finally hers (and the ultimate authority) but
students in classes should be expected to behave as citizens in the
community of the class.
The same for the talkative student who speaks for the professor. How can
the instructor use this behavior to involve the class, to make them
acknowledge that equality cuts both ways. Yes, they have more freedom in
our classes and get more respect (or at least I hope so) but they also
must take more responsibility.
Now here's my disclaimer. I think it's very easy to prescribe solutions
for someone else's class, especially after the fact. And I have found
that what I'm proposing is extremely difficult to do. I am myself in the
process of trying to work out issues of authority in the classroom and
raise these issues in the hopes of furthering discussion.
Janet McAdams
English/ SFASU
jmcadams  @  sfasu.edu

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